Let's go to Budapest, I said to my friend. Yes, let's, friend agreed. We met up for a planning evening and agreed an itinerary so we could fit everything in. Yay.
Why Budapest? People asked me. Really? Have you not heard about this beautiful city with a fascinating history? My answer? Why wouldn't you want to go?
To get a jam-packed visit on a budget, here's what you need to know:
1. There is now a bus directly from the airport to the center of the city, with the last stop at Vösüsmarty tér, which is pretty much Pest central. It's the 100E and costs 900HUF, which is about £3.50 (or was, in March 2018). It takes about an hour, but is very popular, so not everyone gets a seat. You can also get a taxi, which is more expensive, but not crazily so (about £18),
2. We stayed at the Rum Hotel, which was very convenient: about 2 tram stops from Vösüsmarty tér or a 10-minute walk. About 15 minutes' walk from the Jewish (aka 'Party') district where the ruin bars and much nightlife takes place, as well as even closer to the Central Market Hall and the very pretty No 2 tramline route, that runs along the Danube and which you'll no doubt ride a number of times. For a room with a double bed and a sofa bed, it's about €120 per night and that includes a good buffet breakfast with fantastic views of the Liberty statue. Two drawbacks: one, the lighting in the rooms is dim. Like, too dark to read by. We figured it was aimed at the 'screen-reading only' crowd, but it was a little wearisome to be in gloom; and two, the bathroom doesn't provide 100% privacy. This seems to be a hotel trend. Note to hotels: no one wants to watch or hear their friend or partner do their toilet. No one. Moving on...
3. The Gelert Baths. These are fantastically ornate thermal pools in a neo-Classical building on the Buda side of the river. Pricey by locals' standards (about £12pp), but for a one-off, worth it to see the cupid statues and marvel at the tiling. There's a swimming pool, plus four increasingly hotter pools, plus treatments and steam and sauna rooms. Warning: you will feel incredibly relaxed after you've been, so don't do this first thing in the morning as we did - save it for the end of the day when you can go back to your room and collapse.
4. If you like food (who doesn't) stop in the Central Market on your way to the baths. It's another beautiful building and there's every kind of pastry, paprika, fruit, veg, meat and bread on the ground floor. Upstairs is 'Hungarica', or what the rest of us might call tourist tat, but still fun to look at and where you might buy your postcards.
|View of Budapest from the hills|
You also get fantastic views back from the hills to Budapest. To make the journey complete, on your return journey, hop off at the Libegö stop and walk up the trail through the woods about 20 minutes, then get the chairlift down.
8. Final day. Friend's friend kindly invited us for tea at her apartment and this was a real highlight. It reminded me so much of the apartment I grew up in in NYC, with its parquet floors and white walls and the general proportions and layout. I guess the NY architects took their cues from Europe when they built their pre-war buildings.
That's it really! Except, we noticed an odd thing. License plates with the word 'JEW' on them. Of course, the Hungarian language doesn't include this word and it could be argued they are simply randomly generated letters and numbers, but as friend's friend said, it's still a word that would be recognized there. I include them for interest and because it was slightly – just slightly – unsettling to see.